Prevention Efforts Celebrate Regional, Long-Term Success

Fall has been a great season for substance abuse prevention at Tri-County Mental Health Services. The team and its sponsored groups have earned grants and received honors for a multi-level effort to promote wellness in Clay, Platte and Ray counties. Yet one of the most dramatic stories may involve recognition the group may not receive. The success came first. Staley High School won the Celebrate My Drive contest, a safe driving promotion supported by the school’s prevention team, Teaching and Reaching Youth (TRY). TRY is part of the network of the Northland Coalition sponsored by Tri-County. Tri-County staff members Laura Bruce and Vicky Ward were included in the celebration when State Farm Insurance representatives presented the high school a check for $100,000. More recently, Liberty Alliance for Youth received the National CADCA Got Outcomes award, the highest national honor in the prevention arena that is based on effective programming and data-driven outcomes. It is the same award that the Northland Coalition received in 2007 and the Ray County Coalition earned in 2009. The 2012 award will be presented at the CADCA National Conference in February. Earlier in the year, prevention services received their third straight “Exemplary” rating with CARF, the nationally recognized accrediting body. The program has also been successful in collaborating with other organizations. Two $60,000 grants from the Health Care Foundation of Kansas City helped underwrite tobacco prevention efforts among area young people. The Tri-County program also received a federal Sober Truth on Preventing Underage Drinking (STOP) Act grant of $48,258. But the biggest news may involve a Service to Science grant application that could be unsuccessful. Prevention Services Manager Vicky Ward said Tri-County’s request focused not on a single project, but the unique structure that builds coalitions and impacts community attitudes which lead to long-term behavior change. “It’s a reach because we submitted the overall structure, not a specific program,” Ward explained. “But we’ve had people at the federal level say before that we have an incredible organizational structure in place, and it should be shared. This structure could be beneficial across the country.” The effort began with the formation of community coalitions across the Northland in the mid-1990s. Although coalitions are not unique, the flexibility in the Northland network is. “We used school district boundaries because we know that, especially for our smaller coalitions, that’s what makes sense,” Ward explained. “Then, in Ray County, we consolidated them into one coalition because that’s still a very rural area. And we learned very quickly that you couldn’t have just one model. What works in Kansas City won’t necessarily work in Richmond or vice versa.” Coalition members represent area schools, the faith and business communities, law enforcement, civic groups, government positions, youth, and parents. Ward recognized early that a key group was missing. “A lot of adults were coming together to try to solve youth problems,” she noted. “That’s great, but we need young people involved, too. So we formed Youth with Vision to bring young people to the table. This incredible group of young leaders now serve as the advisory council for TCMHS programs, their local community and school prevention organizations and are often called upon to be the voice during legislative hearings.” The most important factor may be how all of this fits together. Along with geographical differences, each community faces unique challenges, something the coalition network emphasizes. “We wanted to maintain cultural sensitivity because it’s not a one size fits all,” Ward stressed. “All teams do their own assessments, and then they determine what their primary concerns are.” Those priorities are used by the Northland Coalition to identify common threads so that area-wide programs are addressing local concerns. That means everything from underage drinking laws proposed in Jefferson City to county enforcement or after school parties share common themes. “We know that prevention works best when people see a consistent message across the community,” Ward said. “But how the details are presented may be different in each community.” A recent community message through the Parent Up campaign was a good example. In Lawson, the message was delivered on place mats at one of the town’s two restaurants. In Kansas City, the message went out through community meetings. “It’s the same goals and objectives but different ways to communicate,” she said. The impact of all this has been dramatic, although many residents may take the results for granted. “You’re talking about changing behavior,” Ward said. “Look at smoking and seatbelts. It took 30 years to really change that at a consistent behavioral level, but today people do not put out ashtrays in their homes for their smoking friends, and most automatically buckle up when they drive. We’re doing the same thing for providing alcohol to young people and other areas of concern. Attitudes are changing.” Tri-County Mental Health Services is a not-for-profit community mental health agency delivering behavioral health and substance abuse prevention and treatment services to individuals and families residing in Clay, Platte and Ray counties. If you have any questions, call (816) 468-0400 or visit www.tri-countymhs.org.

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